Dear Future Readers...
I write to you from the year 2020 and humbly greet thee, digital historians yearning to answer the question "who was tim james?". By now I'm confident my science books will have become the cornerstone of a new enlightened age for humanity. You're welcome, by the way.
You are no doubt curious how these books came to be and what kind of man I was. There are many fascinating stories to be told. You probably want to hear about how I won the Nobel Prize for non-fiction (a category they had to invent just for me), how I achieved world peace through my brief career in break-dancing, or how I was able to successfully end climate change and bring back the dinosaurs through the power of rock music. Those are interesting stories, my friend, but they will have to wait for another time. For now, I will humbly tell thee of how I composed the concluding book in my science trilogy, the books which have no doubt shaped your world.
To learn more about the Godlike figure that was tim james and his writing you can also read...
Writing Book 1 (Part I)
Writing Book 1 (Part II)
Writing Book 2
Writing Book 3 (this takes you to the blog you're reading right now...go on...click the link...I dare you)
I'll acknowledge, however, that there's a chance my books don't usher in a new dawn of prosperity for the Earth (unlikely) so it might be safer to talk about the past rather than speculate on the future. Let's instead rewind to July 2019 and the publication of Fundamental: How Quantum and Particle Physics Explain Absolutely Everything (except gravity).
My first book, Elemental had been a surprise hit; nobody being more surprised than myself. I mean, I once wrote a play in which the hero and villain square off at the end by dueling with rubber chickens, and I once went to school wearing a three piece suit and a gas mask for fun. I'm not the guy who deserves to be positively reviewed in The Wall Street Journal. And yet here we are.
There was a lot of pressure on my second book to do as well as the first. Thankfully, Fundamental did OK...although I may have over-estimated just how excited everyone else gets about quantum mechanics. Don't get me wrong, Fundamental did respectably (the audio-book was briefly the #1 non-fiction title in the UK) but the overwhelming critical and financial success of Elemental was not repeated.
I don't think I'm supposed to admit that publicly though. I'm supposed to project an air of constant sales success in order to seduce publishers, so my agent will probably kill me for writing this. But there you have it...I'm being honest. Elemental was a hit, Fundamental did alright-ish.
I think the important lesson I've learned is that as a writer you're writing for the readers, not yourself. Readers give writers their purpose and if you’re not concerned with keeping them happy, your work isn't going to do well. With Fundamental, I might have lost sight of that.
Of course I wanted my readers to enjoy the book, but I think deep down I was writing a labour of love and my inner compass became too self-centered. This is a necessary hurdle all writers have to clear however, because you have to get the "self-indulgent passion project" out of your system. I'd wanted to write a book about quantum physics since I was 14 so Fundamental really was something I put my heart into. But now I've done that, I can get back to writing for other people...which is who it should be about anyway.
The Difficult Third Act
I wanted book 3 to deal with a topic everyone gets excited about. In my mind it was some kind of weird penance for doing the introspective quantum book - I needed to write something which would appeal to anyone with even the most casual interest in science. Something children and adults are both enthused by. Something every breathing human wants to learn about. And really, in science, there's only one topic which fits that description: the economic habits of off-shore Vietnamese shrimp farmers. Or space.
The way this book evolved was quite distinct from the previous two. With Elemental I was a hungry young fighter eager to prove myself in the ring of popular science literature. I had to persuade publishers to take a chance on me, which took a year of pitch-meetings and proposals before one of them decided to give me a shot. Book one was a constant battle because I was a nobody and publishers, understandably, don't take chances on a nobody. Basically I was Sylvester Stallone in Rocky...only with more muscles.
With Fundamental it was more about them giving me free reign and asking "what else you got?" I had more control to do the writing exactly the way I wanted. I picked the topic, I chose the chapter outlines and wrote it effectively without interference. This time I was like Orson Welles directing Citizen Kane...only with more muscles.
The third book happened a different way altogether. I was toying with the idea of a space book because that seemed like the "big topic" everyone loves. Then, by sheer good fortune, my publisher approached me and asked if I would be interested in writing a space book anyway. They already had one in the pipeline with a different author along the lines of "20 cool things about space you never learned in school" but it fell through, so they asked if I would be interested in taking over the project. It seemed like fate was urging me forward. So I put my shrimp-farmer book on hold and started planning.
"Make Sure It's Weird"
Perhaps the biggest irony of writing Fundamental was that even though it was a passion-project it was actually more stressful than the first one. Not only was I putting myself under pressure to get it perfect, quantum physics isn't exactly the easiest topic to write about. It was a book I wrote through periods of self-doubt and confusion. The result is something I'm very proud of, but I was determined to have more fun with book three.
My publisher only had one real direction..."Make sure it's weird". They wanted the crazy bits of space, so I committed myself to focusing on the oddest oddities I could. It's not a book about the history of NASA, nor is it a book about astronomical techniques. It's a book about black holes, wormholes, white holes, Hawking radiation, the big bang, alien life, area 51, dark matter, dark energy, faster than light travel and higher dimensions of reality. It's a book about extremes.
I also returned to the same structural technique I'd used for Elemental. With that book, each chapter is self-contained so you can dip in and out. With Fundamental I was telling a chronological narrative of how quantum physics came to be, complete with explanations of the discoveries along the way. This book was a return to the original format. Each chapter is a self-contained collection of fun facts and stories on a particular theme. It's a much more light-hearted read and it's much easier to digest (except for the chapter where I talk about string theory and how the Universe might be a hologram).
I made it my mission to ensure every page has a weird fact or story on it, so you can't help but stop at any point and find something that will make you go "what??" Space is such a big topic because...well...I don't need to finish that joke, do I? It's got literally everything in it so I could write about whatever I wanted, as long as it was weird. And I had a lot more fun.
If you want freaky numbers, this book has you covered. If you want analyses of sci-fi movies, this book has you covered. If you want clear descriptions of modern cosmology and theoretical physics, once again this book has you covered. The whole thing is really me getting back to the good stuff...playing around in the sandbox of science and going in whatever direction I feel like.
And So It Is Finished
The American author C.E. Lombardi once said all stories "keep the same form: a beginning, a muddle, and an end." He's playing on the classic three-part structure stories are supposed to contain (although frankly I've yet to meet an actual writer who sticks to it). But the quotation really resonates with me.
You start out at the beginning of a journey with a ton of enthusiasm and wide-eyed naivety. Then you go through the tricky era where you perhaps lose your way a little and get confused about what you're doing. Then finally you emerge with confidence and wisdom, ready to return to your original goals but knowing a lot more about how things work. And that's how it's been.
With my first book I was just so excited to be writing one I didn't think too much about what I was doing. With my second I actually did precisely that...I thought too much...and crafted a book of intensity and obsession. Now, with the final installment, I decided to go Thor Ragnarok and write something which is all shades of insane, but with a little more technical skill than the first installment. If I'm lucky I've managed to retain the simplistic fun of Elemental but add the control of language I learned for Fundamental. That's my hope at least. Now it's up to the readers.
People have suggested a few different names for this series. Perhaps The AL Trilogy seeing as each title ends with "al". Perhaps the Science Will Save Our Species trilogy because that's the sentence I use to summarise all three (#spoiler alert)? But actually, in my head, I call them something else...
In my head I refer to them as The Trousers Trilogy. The reason is that all three contain a ridiculous anecdote about my trousers and how stupid I can be in everyday life. And that's how I feel when I look back at this journey. I'm really just a buffoon who got a chance to write some books. Obviously I want Astronomical to be a smash hit because I'm proud of it, but really I'm just grateful to be given these outrageous opportunities.
I'm the guy who wrote a stage play in which the lead characters duel with rubber chickens. I'm the guy who wore a gas mask and a suit to school. I'm not the next Isaac Asimov or Stephen Hawking...but I love writing and I love explaining things. The fact I get to do that to such a big audience is something I'm grateful for and won't take for granted.
In reality, I'm not going to usher in a new dawn of civilization and my books won't change the world, but I get the opportunity to teach people interesting things and hopefully make them chuckle. That's good enough for me. Thank you to all my readers out there for your support (and let's face it, your money). I hope you enjoy Astronomical. It will be published in the UK in paperback, e-book and audiobook on the 16th July.
Live long and prosper!
I love science, let me tell you why.